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When I started the Track X Track YouTube channel last year, the first album I reviewed was one by a band I’d never listened to before. That album was “Science Fiction” by Brand New, an album that I really enjoyed… one that I even ranked in my top ten for 2017. Now, I know Brand New wasn’t a new act, they were just new to me. And as a result of that newness, I didn’t have any baggage or expectations for their music. It was all fresh and new to me.
I’ve wondered on multiple occasions how that kind of approach can influence one’s perception of an album or artist. Actually, I’m more curious about the opposite effect. If you’re already familiar with a band and their previous work, is it impossible to approach a new release with true objectivity? Some “die hard” fans are predetermined to love everything a given band puts out, no matter what. Meanwhile, other fans may set themselves up for disappointment by having the bar set so high from previous album releases that new music may struggle to satisfy their expectations.
So as we’re starting 2018, it turns out that the very first album I’ve purchased is calling to mind my experience with the 2017 Brand New album in multiple ways. “Offerings” is the fourth album by the band Typhoon, but it’s the first music I’ve ever heard from them. Their self-titled debut was released in 2005, and was followed by two more albums in 2010 and 2013. I don’t get the impression that this indie band from Seattle has yet to establish quite the sizable following that Brand New has, but they have enough of a devoted fan base that there’s been an undeniable low level buzz about “Offerings” over the past few weeks leading up to its release.
Based on that buzz, I decided to check out the single, “Rorschach.” Right away, I could tell there was a lot going on here. I was drawn to the mysterious, haunting quality of the music and the palpable vulnerability in lead singer-songwriter Kyle Morton’s vocals. In the entire “Offerings” song cycle, of which “Rorschach” is the second track, this song is also one of the most “rocking,” so to speak. But I was hooked, and I needed to hear more.
“Offerings” is a concept album. It loosely tells the story of a man that discovers he’s starting to lose his memory and is slowly starting to make his descent into mental oblivion. So, yeah, it’s not exactly “feel good” music. But neither was “The Dark Side of the Moon,” a classic and beloved concept album that was a brilliant observation of human mortality.
Usually when I review albums, I take an approach like this channel’s name, and get into a track by track breakdown. I’m not going to do that with “Offerings,” though, and the reason is because I feel like to do so would be like reviewing a movie by detailing every point in the plot from beginning to end. As a concept album, there’s enough of a story here that it seems like I’d be spoiling your experience with the music by digging too deeply into it here. There’s a sense of mystery throughout that is best left to the listener’s own discovery.
So what can I say about “Offerings?” Well, for starters, I’ll say that band’s choice to never specifically identify the protagonist’s ailment was a wise one. The obvious guess would be Alzheimer’s disease… obvious because so many of us know people whose lives have been devastated by the disease. But by not putting a name on the condition, it also makes the story even more relatable. It’s pretty clear that the main character is someone who’d otherwise be in the prime of their life. Yet anyone who has ever watched a loved one deteriorate in a hospital bed will recognize many of these scenes, and more likely their point of reference will be an elderly parent or grandparent. Again, this kind of personal projection just makes listening an even more emotional experience.
I have to say, though, that that deeply felt connection to the music is also going to be a detriment to some listeners. This is a long album, close to 70 minutes, and that running time gets to feel a bit exhausting about two-thirds of the way in. On top of that, the melancholy mood of this album is unrelenting to a fault. When Shannon Steele takes over the vocals for a track on “Coverings,” it’s a welcome reprieve even if it’s odd that the protagonist’s gender has temporarily changed.
There’s some stand-out tracks I want to point out, though. I mentioned “Rorschach,” which does a great job early on in the album setting the stage for what is to come. And you know how I said this album reminded me of “Science Fiction” by Brand New in multiple ways? This song is a prime example. “Rorschach” unquestionably shares a sonic palate with much of the music on the Brand New album. In fact, a LOT of the music on “Offerings” approaches the vibe of the songs on “Science Fiction,” although it never reaches for the same level of intense angst that we’d get from Brand New. But that’s a good thing here.
Later on the album we get the only truly “up-tempo” song on the album, and that’s “Remember.” I get a really strong Killers vibe on this track… musically, yes, but especially in the lyrical delivery and the style of storytelling. This track is also being used as a single for the album, which is fine, but I don’t think it is a good representation of the album as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, I like the song a lot. But if you picked up this album on the strength of “Remember,” you’ll probably be disappointed.
There’s two more standout tracks I want to mention. One is called “Unusual,” which is perhaps one of the best songs on the album in terms of how it balances the sometimes overbearing melancholy of the music against sonic textures that feel oddly refreshing. There’s some great ethereal guitars here that are reminiscent of Sigur Ros, accented by subtle but haunting horns in the background. The whole thing leads to a rather jubilant climax that’s more than a little Coldplay-esque.
The other track I want to mention is “Algernon,” a song that features some of the most evocative and descriptive storytelling on the album. There’s several songs on “Offerings” that have a strong Bright Eyes feel to them, but none more than this track. And although Kyle Morton’s vocal delivery is consistent throughout the album, this is the one song where I’d actually draw a comparison to Conor Oberst. It’s good stuff.
In fact the whole album is pretty good stuff. It’s not perfect, by any means. The dark mood of this thing can feel oppressive sometimes. Think of some of Elliot Smith’s more depressing songs (and I know, there’s a lot of them) and that’s kind of what this is for an hour and ten minutes. Yeah, you get bursts of, say, Arcade Fire here and there, and those are welcome breaks in the otherwise earnestly somber proceedings. Still, if you’re in the right sort of headspace, I think this album is a very rewarding listen. It’s meant for a more meditative experience than for casual playback. And if you’re willing to go there, this is pretty easy to recommend.
So I’m giving “Offerings” by Typhoon an X rating of 7 out of 10. It’s the first truly compelling new music I’ve heard in these early weeks if the new year.
Note: This review is also available on video on the Track X Track YouTube channel.